When a person runs a query in Bing, the results include general content from the web as well as related information from social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Google+.
For instance, if a user is logged into Bing through Facebook when performing the search, Bing’s Social Sidebar is populated with related information from their Facebook friends. Bing launched the sidebar feature last summer.
Previously, the results included only the Facebook friends’ “Likes,” photos and profile information, but Microsoft has now expanded that to include status updates, shared links and comments.
The extended data amounts to a five-fold increase in Facebook friends’ content that is searchable in the sidebar, Microsoft said wrote in a blog post.
The idea is to give people more useful and personalized results. “This is a much richer set of data that not only helps show what your friends may know, but what knowledge they possess that can aid in your search,” a Microsoft spokesperson said. The Social Sidebar is currently available only to users in the U.S.
A person planning a trip to New York, for instance, can find not just information about the city, but also information from Facebook friends who have lived or visited there, Microsoft said.
The information in the sidebar from other social networks works slightly differently — it’s not linked to the person’s friends, but to other sources deemed to be experts on the topic. That functionality is not affected by today’s changes.
The new Bing features are not connected to the Graph Search announcement, according to Microsoft. But the company will “continue to power the web search functionality on Facebook,” Microsoft said.
The move, if true, would form a new stream of revenue for the social network in the months before the company launches its initial public offering, according to a report from the The Financial Times citing unnamed sources.
The report said Facebook has been in contact with advertising agencies regarding what would be “featured stories” in users’ news feed. The ads reportedly would launch in early March.
Last week, Facebook filed documents for an IPO with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. With an expected $100 billion valuation, the social network has a preliminary goal of raising $5 billion. The IPO is expected in May. A stock price has not yet been announced.
In its SEC filing, Facebook made it clear to potential investors that it plans on putting a lot of focus on its mobile users. Of the company’s 845 million members, 425 million monthly active users access the site with their mobile devices.
Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said adding a new revenue stream wouldn’t just bring in more money, it also could increase Facebook hype – both of which would benefit the IPO.
“Well, the valuation at IPO is based on basic company fundamentals and hype,” he added. “Hype can bring in investors that might not typically participate in an IPO, and another revenue stream adds to Facebook’s long-term potential.”
The problem with such an ad plan is that it could bring in more user ire than revenue, Kerravala said.
“It’s like spamming users,” he said. “Putting ads in the news feed is, in effect, spam. The news feed is meant for users to keep updated with other users, not for Facebook marketing. This can only have a negative backlash.”
A Reuters review of the Westlaw legal database reveeals that since 2008, federal judges have authorized at least two dozen warrants to search individuals’ Facebook accounts. Many of the warrants requested a whole slew of personal data such as messages, status updates, links to videos and photographs, calendars of future and past events, “Wall postings” and “rejected Friend requests.”
Federal agencies seeking the warrants include the FBI, DEA and ICE, and the investigations range from arson to rape to terrorism.
The Facebook search warrants typically demand a user’s “Neoprint” and “Photoprint” — terms that Facebook has used to describe a detailed package of profile and photo information that is not even available to users themselves.
These terms appear in manuals for law enforcement agencies on how to request data from Facebook. The manuals, posted on various public-advocacy websites, appear to have been prepared by Facebook, although a spokesman for the company declined to confirm their authenticity.
The review of Westlaw data indicates that federal agencies were granted at least 11 warrants to search Facebook since the beginning of 2011, nearly double the number for all of 2010. The precise number of warrants served on Facebook is hard to determine, in part because some records are sealed, and warrant applications often involve unusual case names. (One example: “USA v. Facebook USER ID Associated with email address firstname.lastname@example.org,” a sealed case involving a drug sale.)
In a telephone interview, Facebook’s Chief Security Officer, Joe Sullivan, declined to say how many warrants had been served on the company. He said Facebook is sensitive to user privacy and that it regularly pushes back against law-enforcement “fishing expeditions.”
Those updates will make the email service look a whole lot like the company’s just-launched social network, Google+ .
In a blog post Thursday, Jason Cornwell, a user experience designer at Google, stated that the company is aiming to give Gmail a cleaner look and make it easier to use.
Gmail isn’t the only Google application that’s getting re-designed this summer. According to Cornwell, Google Calendar will also get a new look that will be revealed in the next few days.
“This is part of a Google-wide effort to bring you an experience that’s more focused, elastic, and effortless across all of our products,” Cornwell wrote. “The changes are not going to happen all at once. We know that you love and care about Gmail as much as we do, and we’ll be working on these upgrades gradually over the next few months to allow plenty of time to understand and incorporate your feedback into the evolving design.”
Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research, said it makes sense that Google wants to create a consistent look for all of its services.
“A consistent look is essential for branding,” he said. “People should know they’re on a Google property. Even someone glancing at someone else’s screen should know they’re on a Google property. It may be that Google+ was just the first view of the new look.”
As of Thursday, users could try out two new combinations of colors and graphics for their Gmail interfaces. The new design options, which Google calls “themes,” are known as Preview and Preview Dense; they pick up on the look of Google+ and make Gmail pages more airy with a lot more white space. With the new themes, Gmail messages look quite a bit like status updates on the page.
The new themes can be found under the Themes tab in Gmail Settings.
On Wednesday, Facebook introduced a mobile app for feature phones, the less-expensive, Internet-capable phones that are in greater supply and more popular than smartphones in many parts of the world.
Like Facebook apps for the Apple iPhone and other smartphones, the Facebook for Feature Phones app is designed to provide easy navigation, fast scrolling of status updates and photos from friends, and synchronization of contacts with the phone. The app was announced in a Wednesday entry to Facebook’s blog.
While smartphones are widely used in the U.S. and some European and Asian countries, many mobile Internet users elsewhere rely on feature phones. Last year, Facebook launched the mobile website http://0.facebook.com, a stripped-down site for users on slower networks and less-advanced phones. It is designed to work faster by using only text. Now Facebook is offering those users a dedicated application with more graphical content.
The new app works on more than 2,500 handset models from Nokia, Sony Ericsson and other vendors, according to Facebook. But it won’t immediately be available everywhere.
Facebook initially will offer it through 14 carriers around the world, with nine of those offering the app immediately. They include operators in Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Poland, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Tunisia, Dominican Republic and Romania. Soon after, carriers in Canada, India, Mexico, Brazil and Bulgaria will make it available.
For the first 90 days after launch, those service providers won’t charge for data use with the new app, Facebook said.
When Facebook launched its slimmed-down mobile site, it announced 50 carrier partners in 40 countries, offering at least 12 months of free data use. At the time, it said the U.S. was left out of the launch because Facebook was doing well with media-rich smartphone applications and was looking to provide a deeper experience to those users.